Chicago Will Launch a Pilot With 2,500+ Scooters on June 15, With a Nighttime Curfew

With thousands of dockless scooters (DSco) coming to town this summer, Chicagoans should brace themselves for DSco fever. Photo: Gary Kavanagh
With thousands of dockless scooters (DSco) coming to town this summer, Chicagoans should brace themselves for DSco fever. Photo: Gary Kavanagh

Dockless electric scooters: Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re becoming increasingly common in American cities. Proponents say they offer a handy first- and last-mile connection to transit and replace driving for other kinds of short trips, basically serving as bicycles for people who aren’t willing or able to risk getting sweaty during their commute. Opponents say they endanger pedestrians on sidewalks, clog bike lanes, create sidewalk clutter and vandalism eyesores, and encourage people to recreate without actually getting any exercise. Reflecting this backlash, a brewery in Austin, Texas, where the micromobility devices are said to be ubiquitous, even created a “No Scooters” beer.

Here at Streetsblog Chicago we’ve been badgering the Chicago Department of Transportation for months to get info on plans to allow dockless scooter (DSco, pronounced “Disco”) operators to set up shop here. Today the city announced that they’re taking a similar approach as last year’s dockless bike-share pilot, quarantining the technology to a particular section of town. The six-month dockless bike test included virtually all of the city south of 79th Street, which had almost no Divvy stations. The scooter pilot will be largely limited to the West and Northwest sides.

CDOT and the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection made a joint announcement today that applications are open for vendors to participate in the pilot, citing recommendations by the city’s new Transportation and Mobility Task Force that such a test be conducted. The program will launch on June 15 and will last four months, through October 15. Since the application process just opened today, we yet don’t know which vendors will participate, but Lime (which did demos in Chicago last year), Bird, Lyft (which runs Divvy), and Uber/JUMP are likely candidates.

“The City is committed to improving transportation access, reducing single-occupancy vehicle use, and providing first- and last-mile solutions to support public transit,” CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said in a statement. “This program is designed to test how scooters as a mobility option can support these goals and to evaluate the impact of the technology on Chicagoans.”

The city stated that it will be legal to park a scooter wherever it is legal to lock a bike in the public way. According to Chicago’s bike parking ordinance, that would be “against the curb or upon the sidewalk, against a rack, parking meter or sign pole to support the bicycle, or against a building or at the curb in such manner as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrian traffic.” (Fun fact: I helped get the ordinance revised to include parking meters and sign poles back when I was CDOT’s bike parking manager back in the early 2000s.) However, that’s not actually completely true — more on that in a minute.

Riders will typically use a smartphone to unlock and ride the devices within the pilot area, though vendors will offer services for non-smartphone users and cash-based options. The pilot zone, located on the west side of the city, will be bounded by Halsted Street and the Chicago River on the east, Irving Park Rd. on the north, the city boundary and Harlem Avenue on the west, and the Chicago River on the south. Two priority areas have been identified within the pilot zone, where at least 25 percent of scooters must be placed every morning.

The DSco pilot area.
The DSco pilot area.

“This geography, and particularly the priority areas, were selected for the opportunity to pilot scooters in a variety of community types,” said BACP Commissioner Rosa Escareno in a statement. “We want to support innovation and new emerging industries- this pilot program will allow the City and its residents to better understand how electric shared scooters impact the city. We have engaged with advocates, community groups, business groups, and elected officials within the pilot area and look forward to working closely with residents to evaluate the program.”

The pilot area also means that the scooters won’t be available for commutes to and from downtown rail stations and workplaces, and we probably won’t be seeing them in large number on the Lakefront Trail (which is probably a good thing.) “There was too much potential for sidewalk clutter downtown,” a city official told me.

The scooter program is made possible through an Emerging Business Permit issued by BACP and will include a total of 2,500 scooters minimum, 3,500 maximum, in the pilot area, divided evenly among all selected vendors, the city says. To minimize sidewalk clutter, scooters must be parked upright; away from street corners, bus stops, and buildings (which actually isn’t in line with the bike parking ordinance); and with a minimum six-foot clearance on the sidewalk. Vendors will be required to retrieve and move improperly parked electric shared scooters within two hours.

The city says that to ensure a safe riding environment, scooters will be prohibited from operating on the sidewalks and will be limited to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour. The scooters also will be equipped with a warning bell, front and rear lights, hand and foot brakes, and a 24/7 phone number for each vendor.

Unlike some scooter cities, like Portland, Oregon, there is no helmet requirement, which is a good thing, since a helmet rule would be a barrier to use. It will also prevent police from using the rule as a pretext to stop and search residents in communities of color, something that the Chicago Police Department has admitted to doing with bike law enforcement.

Youth test-rode scooters in North Lawndale last summer. Photo: Lime
Youth test-rode scooters in North Lawndale last summer. Photo: Lime

In a key difference from Chicago’s dockless bike pilot, operating hours for the scooter program will be from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. only, with the scooters removed from the public way every night by the vendors. This curfew was likely designed to minimize theft and vandalism, and DSco operators will need to take scooters off the street regularly to recharge them anyway. On the other hand, forcing the companies to pick up and drop off the scooters every single day will result in a lot of additional driving, which is counterproductive to the purpose of the program.

Scooter operators will be required to provide the city with realtime and continuous data on operations, ridership, and safety, to ensure that the city is able to effectively manage the pilot and determine next steps.

The city says that to understand the impact of scooters and prepare for this pilot program, BACP and CDOT have led a series of focus groups and listening sessions with community groups, advocates for individuals with disabilities, and local transportation stakeholders. Based on their feedback, the city says, this pilot has been designed to test the potential of scooters as an inclusive and equitable mobility option for Chicago residents. The departments promise to continue to engage with stakeholders during the rollout and duration of the pilot to gain their feedback and evaluate the effectiveness of the program.

“Scooters can potentially provide an affordable, environmentally-friendly transportation solution for thousands of Chicagoans,” said Sharon Feigon, executive director of the Shared Use Mobility Center. “We are very excited to test the impact of this new mobility option in Chicago through the scooter pilot program.”

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke expressed more of a wait-and-see attitude towards the pilot. “Chicago needs more and better alternatives to driving, and electric scooters can be part of a growing list of more efficient transportation options,” he said in a statement, but added that “It will be important to prevent people from riding or parking scooters inappropriately on the sidewalk, or filling up the city’s already limited network of comfortable bike lanes. In addition, the safety and mobility needs of people with disabilities must also be closely watched and evaluated throughout the pilot.”

Burke added that Active Trans has encouraged the city to work with companies and businesses to create designated parking corrals and incentivize proper parking, especially in congested areas like Randolph Street in the West Loop and Milwaukee Avenue through Wicker Park. “In addition, we have urged the city to repurpose parking and travel lanes to bike/scooter lanes in the pilot’s areas busiest corridors to help limit sidewalk riding and encourage efficient travel.”

Burke argued that the scooter pilot has the potential to be a win for all sustainable transportation users. “For decades cities have designed streets around cars and other modes have largely been ignored – resulting in more dangerous streets for everyone. More Chicagoans riding scooters can help us win street space back from cars carrying one or two people, and get more people walking, biking, and riding public transit.”

Visit the CDOT website for more information about the scooter pilot.

  • HD

    If this goes as well as the Divvy bike and car2go programs, expect a wave of thefts and vandalism to plague this rollout:

    https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-divvy-thefts-20180730-story.html

    https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/car2go-rental-theft-charges/

  • Kevin M

    The #1 means-test for any new public transportation option should be: will/does this replace automobile usage? If not, this sh!t is just expensive clutter in the precious public way.

  • Jeremy Glover

    People who drive will keep driving. The real question will be: does this replace TNC rides? That’s where I think it has the most potential. That, and building a larger advocacy base for bicycle/micromobility infrastructure.

  • planetshwoop

    Bummed that it stops arbitrarily at Irving Park. It means those of us on the North side without Divvy will still be waiting for any new options.

  • paulrandall

    “or filling up the city’s already limited network of comfortable bike lanes”

  • paulrandall

    On a sunny day it would beat taking the bus or train!

  • what_eva

    I was recently in San Antonio for the weekend, which has these.

    The clutter is real. The problem is that it’s not the companies parking the scooters, it’s riders. On a weekend in a touristy area, there were definitely lots of tourists using them and likely not giving a crap how they parked them at the end.

    In many cities, the companies don’t charge the scooters, they pay people to do it. You pick them up, charge them at your own house and put them back out on the street and get paid something for it. Yet more gig-economy work. So, will they actually pick them up or will they try to get the people charging to also store them overnight?

  • Hmmm. I know someone in the pilot area who drives their car two blocks and parks and takes the bus then el downtown. If every bus stop had a staging/docking area and they charged it at home and could count on another at the bus stop the next day … ?

  • Austin Milbarge

    What has John Greenfield done top educate the bike-crazi’s on
    Milwaukee ave that these horrible devices will be allowed in the bike
    lanes?
    Otherwise, the hipster fixies will pound them with their U-locks.
    Also- remember the Car2Go thievery? Just wait until they get their hands on these scooters.

  • Guy Ross

    Don’t mean to be flippant but: so what? How does either effect you as either user or non-user

  • Guy Ross

    This is great news. I was pleasantly surprised to see the map of the pilot coverage. It’s decently contiguous and includes great diversity both in $$ and race – well done Rosa Escareno.

    I hope all those who are putting this in motion stay engaged and curious in order to get the right system in place for the full roll out. Clever details (like incentives) can be the silver bullet on these projects.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    By crazy people on Milwaukee Avenue, are you referring to the guy who, possibly intentionally, ran over two cyclists with his car last week at Chicago Avenue and Milwaukee, which resulted in him getting a ticket and one of the cyclists being arrested? https://chi.streetsblog.org/2019/04/24/driver-90-strikes-two-cyclists-in-west-town-police-arrest-one-of-the-cyclists/

  • Combin8tion

    I don’t agree that it’s good public policy to not require a helmet. Given the state of the roads in Chicago, including bike lanes, and the amount of traffic, both bicycle and automobile, the city is sure to see an uptick in ER visits related to the permitting of scooters. Having been involved in serious scooter accident myself in another city which resulted in busted knee and “only” a black eye I sure wish I had been wearing a helmet and knee pads that day. To think that public policy stops at “[removing] barrier[s] to use” is short sighted.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Awesome – this is *just* what we needed in Avondale, not a safe way to get through the Kennedy Expressway intersections.

  • Carter O’Brien

    TNCs are automobiles (at least for now), so that’s kind of splitting hairs from a congestion and pollution standpoint. But I disagree about “people who drive will keep driving.” I know lots of people – myself included – who own cars but are always on the lookout for alternative options to using them in the city.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I would happily swap Irving Park for Belmont!

  • Are these going to be allowed on the 606? It’s in the pilot area. Also is that the first time someone from CDOT has said the city is committed to reducing single-occupancy-vehicle use?

  • planetshwoop

    this is a good idea.

  • DB

    I think it’s actually far-sighted. There’s a logic with bikes (and e-scooters too) is that the more bikes on the road, the more cars (the biggest danger to bikes) will learn to share the road with bikes and drive in a way that results in fewer bike deaths. The logic says that the requirement to use helmets actually reduces bike ridership enough to counter this benefit. I don’t think there’s conclusive evidence one way or another, but imagine a Chicago where there’s less car use, more bikers (and the like), and more demand for segregated bike lanes, resulting in lower car-bike interaction and lower fatalities as a result.

    All that said, our roads are in poor shape for the little wheels that these scooters have. I think these might be as big of a threat as cars for head injuries, which complicates the helmet discussion.

  • DB

    If it’s a functional pilot, wouldn’t it just add to the voices calling for more bike lanes in the future?

  • rohmen

    I just hope these companies figure out (and are held accountable) for the “waste” these things generate. From a couple articles I’ve read, it appears the average lifespan of a dockless scooter is pretty short (like a few weeks to months at most), and they’re then replaced. I hope some recycling is going on, but I imagine a lot of dead scooters make it into the waste stream.

    The above has also led some to call into question how sustainable the whole system is—as they’re not charging enough to cover what the scooters cost to replace. What happens once the VC money runs out, as the “damage” issue isn’t going to get better as these companies scale up (arguably it’ll get worse).

  • Courtney

    I personally would wear a helmet while riding these scooters. I don’t ride a helmet while riding a bike because the bumps in the road don’t create as much impact vs if I were on a scooter. I think it would be great if the scooters had some info on them (similar to the printed info on Divvy bikes) encouraging folks to wear a helmet.

  • Courtney

    I am kind of bummed that they have a nighttime curfew. If we expect people to potentially use these to replace TNC trips then they should be available to use when CTA buses stop running or the headways become miserable.

  • Austin Milbarge

    “possibly intentionally”
    or- possibly just an accident.
    And I WONDER what the cyclist was arrested for, possibly, assault??
    Stop trying to force Copenhagen down our throats already John. Chicago streets were built for cars and that’s never going to change.

  • Combin8tion

    I certainly agree on the state of the roads. But I think it would be far-sighted public policy if the city were to work with the vendors and figure out an elegant way to provide helmets for scooter users. It’s not just automobile collisions that are a concern but collisions with any fixed object be it a mailbox, utility pole, traffic signal, etc. or even a collision with a pedestrian. The speed of a scooter combined with road conditions and objects of interference will cause multiple head traumas across this city. That should concern transportation alliance folks just as much as automobile collisions.

    https://www.marketplace.org/2019/02/20/sustainability/escooter-related-injuries-are-on-the-rise

  • BlueFairlane

    I have long been convinced that these things are nothing but a big scam designed to convince ecologically-minded people they’re doing things they aren’t, as there is absolutely nothing about these things that holds up to any kind of scrutiny from an ecological, economic, or transportation-related standpoint. In five years, all that will be left is a few wannabe Musks who got out at the right time, a lot of wannabe Musks who didn’t, and a couple of hundred-thousand husks of metal, plastic, and dead bits of lithium rotting in a few dozen landfills. The only beneficiaries will be doctors to treat head injuries and dentists who replace teeth.

  • HD

    Significant police resources diverted to tracking down stolen property — which should have been made more secure given the business model of “self-serve” access to bikes/high end cars — as was the case with the Divvy bike and car2go programs

    Unavailability of scooters stolen or vandalized — as was the case with the Divvy bike and car2go programs

  • rohmen

    Two blocks? What’s the motivation for driving such a ridiculously small distance in the first place, and why would a scooter remove that motivation? Also, are you really allowed to rent one of these things for 10 minutes, and then take it in your house and “charge” it for the night to guarantee you can ride one to the bus stop the next morning?

    If so, no offense, but the economics of these things make even less sense than they seem to already.

  • defuncted up

    How’s this any different though than personally-owned vehicles being stolen? I guess no one in the city should own a car since it’s going to get stolen anyway!

  • Carter O’Brien

    I can’t say this is my favorite Instagram account, but I will say I check it often: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vbj7xb/theres-an-entire-instagram-account-devoted-to-destroying-rideshare-scooters

  • Carter O’Brien

    “Chicago streets were built for horses and wagons and that’s never going to change.”

    Fixed it for you. This is a fun read as well: https://chicagology.com/chicagostreets/early-chicago-streets/

  • HD

    Both Divvy and car2go programs had obvious security defects that let thieves unlock Divvy bikes/steal high end cars with minimal effort.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Curious: What is the reason they don’t walk that two blocks? (Parking must be easy there.)

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I am thinking that I kinda wish these scooters accelerated more slowly/gradually than they do and that they maxed out at 8 — or maybe 10 — mph… Well, we’ll see what happens. I suggest that the City have a robust method in place for tracking emergency room visit data and police report and other sources for data on crashes involving scooters.

  • what_eva

    The tiny wheels are indeed an issue, especially compared to a bike. Fairly small holes/cracks/whatever can screw up the wheels. I took one ride when I was in San Antonio and nearly wiped out at one spot because there was a nasty crack in the sidewalk.

  • what_eva

    Gotta agree with others. Someone who drives two blocks isn’t likely to replace that with a scooter.

  • They are in their 60s. Safety partly. And there is easy parking. Oh and weather is another. And parking downtown is also expensive.

  • See next reply on why two blocks.

    It might work économique wise if there are other users during the day I suppose. And then few at night and the free charging. But I’m with you, suspicious.

  • defuncted up

    There are private cars out on the road today with obvious security defects (simply because they are old or just bad models). So my question still stands: how is this any different than a personally-owned car being stolen?

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